Sermon, December 10, 2017

Sermon.12.10.17

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Isaiah 40.1-11; Psalm 85.1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3.8-15a; Mark.1.1-8

Fr. Larry Ort

 

Last Sunday we focused on waiting; we noted a sense of expectancy, and hope. The prophet Isaiah cried, “Oh, that you tear open the heavens and come down” (64.1; NRSV). The psalmist pled for the restoration of God’s people. St. Paul spoke of the grace of God the Church of Corinth had received through Jesus Christ such that they were “not lacking in any spiritual gift” as they waited for the revealing of Jesus Christ, of how God had strengthened them to the “end” so they would be blameless upon Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 1.7-8; NRSV). Mark recounted Jesus’ exhortation that the disciples be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man, that they “keep awake” (Mark 13.36; NRSV).

Our readings for this Sunday, peace Sunday, focus on three things: 1) announcing “good news,” 2) absorbing the good news, and 3) living the good news by serving as the instruments of God’s peace. Let’ examine these in greater detail.

Announcing the Good News

                Mark introduces his gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1.1.; NRSV). These words do not constitute a sentence, for there is no main verb (Paul Berge. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=185) What we have here is the title of the Gospel. Understood in the context of the day and age, this is a radical title with radical claims!

Why? For three reasons. First, the Greek word for “good news,” evangelion, connotes the proclamation of a military victory – “Our forces have prevailed; the war is ended” (Eugene  Boring in http://www.workingpreacher.org/profile/default.aspx?uid=2_jacobsen_david_schnasa). As such, “good news” was properly the political domain of Caesar and the Roman legions (Travis Meier. https://www.thebartimaeuseffect.com/the-gospel-of-mark/mark-11-15). Second, the phrase “Son of God” was reserved solely for Caesar, the Roman emperor. Attributing this title to anyone other than Caesar was seditious. Third, Mark’s title announces the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new covenant, a covenant at odds with the Roman empire and all worldly kingdoms. To put it bluntly, this title was treasonous and seditious! I doubt that St. Mark could have penned a stronger entry to his gospel. The reader of the time would have been aware of these contextual elements; this provocative opening would immediately have caught the reader’s attention. From this standpoint, the gospel of Mark was a page-turner. Our familiarity and lack of context cause us to lose sight of this fact.

Absorbing the Good News

                The good news fulfills two separate prophecies which Mark creatively combines when he states, “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,”’ John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1.2-4; NRSV). Malachi speaks of sending the messenger, “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight – indeed, he is coming says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3.1; NRSV). In Isaiah 40.3 (NRSV) we read, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”

Malachi and Isaiah foretold the coming of the Messiah. Mark’s gospel is proclaiming the Messiah’s arrival. Now if we were “god for a day,” I suspect we would have managed events a bit differently. We would have held a huge press conference in Jerusalem Square. After all, everybody knows that’s where God would arrive. We would have had banks of microphones, television boom cameras, a gold-plated key to the city, all the dignitaries, and speeches. Lots of speeches!

But what did God do? God found a long-haired crazy clothed in camel’s hair eating bugs and honey who liked to hang out on the banks of the Jordan River in a remote section of wilderness to be God’s messenger, to announce the coming of the Messiah. Word must have traveled rather quickly, for people from the surrounding countryside, and from Jerusalem, came out to hear him preach a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. And John told them, “You know, I am preaching away here, I’m calling you to account for your sins, to repent and be baptized, but I’m telling you, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1.7-8; NRSV).

Living the Good News

                How are we to respond? The psalmist says, “I will listen to what the Lord is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people, and to those who turn their hearts to him. Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land” (Psalm 85.8-9; BCP). And what is to be the result when we turn our hearts to the Lord? The psalmist further states, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85.10; BCP). On the one hand, granting mercy without truth abets another’s life of delusion and sin. On the other hand, telling the truth without mercy or compassion furthers another’s sense of unworthiness and isolation. When true reform takes place, mercy and truth meet together; they work in harmony to promote wholeness. Mercy and truth lead to the restoration of relationships; when relationships are restored, the parties to the relationship stand in righteousness; and peace accompanies righteousness. There is great wisdom in the words of the psalmist: “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

And last, the author of 2 Peter, in addressing the criticism of those who scoffed at the Lord’s failure to return immediately as promised, reminds believers “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3.8; NRSV). He tells the believers God is not being slow about his promise but is being patient, not wanting any to perish. They, and by extension us, as they waited and as we wait for the Lord’s return were/are to “strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3.14b-15; NRSV).

The Messiah comes that we might attain righteousness through God’s grace. In truth, we repent of our sins and experience God’s mercy; thus, we stand in righteousness and in peace. Ultimately, this condition will encompass all of creation, but for now, we are to strive to be found by him at peace.

May you know God’s peace. If you do not, Advent is a good time to discover it.

Amen

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